Are you hiring the best people for your company?

Don’t let first impressions fool you

Over the past 12 years, I’ve coached many through the career transition process always encouraging them to research the companies carefully they interview with. The best candidates will research your organization’s work environment, business culture as well as current needs before you interview them. They do this because they want to ask informed, respectful questions to demonstrate their professionalism

Unfortunately, few job candidates give careful thought to whether they are a comfortable, win-win fit for your open position. If you make them an offer, they’ll likely accept it.

Understand who you are and assess your needs

To prevent costly hiring mistakes, lay the groundwork by clearly defining your company’s values, business culture and priorities. Then factor in your emerging skills requirements. Do your due diligence. Which among your competitors have the best, most stable record of growth? Are they doing a better job than you at capturing candidates, i.e., those with the most-in-demand skills to better meet emerging tech and other changes? –If so, consider updating your posted job descriptions and hiring process to strategically expand your talent base.

Avoid the trap of confirmation bias

Decades of research consistently show that interviewers decide whether they like a candidate within the first 10 seconds of meeting them–certainly within the first few minutes. Interviewers generally fail to understand the power of this confirmation bias, i.e., “the tendency to search for, interpret, or prioritize information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses.” In other words, if a hiring manager likes a candidate, she or he subconsciously selects out responses and behaviors that confirm their first, immediate impression.

Adding another layer of subjective bias are unit managers who just go with their gut. They are under the illusion that their intuition is impeccable and make no apologies for their ‘process.’  So, they end up consistently hiring candidates who they are like them, who share their interests and personality type.

There’s nothing wrong with ensuring interpersonal compatibility. But always remember- that persuasive, charming candidates may be brilliant at interviewing, but may perform poorly once hired. Some of them are con artists, so toxic that once on the job they measurably undermine team morale and productivity. I’ve seen it happen.

Objectively assess interpersonal skills

Seasoned hiring managers often sagely comment that they are willing to train a proactive, interpersonally gifted new hire to come up to speed on technical skills they may be lacking. Not that you should have to compromise between the two. However, research does confirm that so-called ‘soft skills,’ especially, communication competence and emotional intelligence are the best determiners of success on the job.

Most hiring managers have a clear idea of the technical skills they want in new employees. They also are sensitive to a candidate’s personability. –Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to screen out people who interview brilliantly, but may be exaggerating/padding their skills profile or hiding a history of interpersonal failures in previous positions.

Update your job description

Never reuse a job description without review. Job requirements can change quickly with organizational work practices, reorganizations, staff training, and digital technology. Can you afford to train new staff to bring them up to speed on tech skills they don’t have? Many employers can’t.

As you recalibrate your work descriptions, assess the key traits that characterize your most successful employees. Integrate those traits/skills into your job description and incorporate them into your interview process.

Be specific. IF your job descriptions are ambiguous, this can lead to long-term conflict between employer and employee, and result in unexpected challenges from attorneys and government regulators. While the wording of your job description should avoid the chill of ‘legalese,’ it should be precise. — Begin with ‘must haves,’ e.g., formal degrees, training certifications, etc. If project flow requires periodic overtime, make that clear. Ask questions concerning ‘reasonable accommodation,’ etc.

Attract diverse applicants

Carefully follow all equal opportunity legislation requirements. This is to your advantage because diverse work environments result in more innovation and performance with a richer diversity of perspectives and insights. A diverse workforce encompasses differentiators like gender, ethnicity, race, country of origin and age. — Do NOT use phrases like, “looking for a young, high-energy team player” in your job postings. Such phrasing violates the law. Instead, say ‘looking for a resilient, hard-working team player.

Sourcing candidates

Traditionally, candidates have been recruited directly from colleges, technical schools, job fairs, military-sponsored job fairs, and employee contacts, etc. Be aware, however, if your current workforce is not diverse, relying too heavily on current employee contacts will only reinforce the status quo.

For the past generation, most companies have been posting their jobs online with links to their home site. You already probably use industry-specific job sites. Be sure to explore and utilize those specific to your location, skills base and niche specialties. –In addition, there are times when you may want to search outside your industry to acquire entirely new capabilities that can help you ‘disrupt’ your industry with entirely new products or services.

Your website is your best recruiting tool

Your website IS your brand. Describe your company’s business culture, potential career paths, benefits, and mission/vision/values along with insight into what it’s really like to work at your organization. Establishing high brand expectations for candidates will inspire them to want to work for you.

Large to medium-size companies generally list their job openings directly onsite. This gives their hiring managers immediate access to applicant credentials for initial screening. Above all, your website must be easy-to-navigate. You don’t want to lose promising candidates because of technical issues. Next, I’ll discuss the interview process and diagnostic screening tools.

So far, I described how the hiring process is a bit more subjective than most hiring managers recognize. HR Departments and department managers have had epic battles not only about who should oversee the hiring process but also about interview formatting (hiring managers generally don’t like structure, much preferring to go with their gut instinct). Unfortunately, research shows that spontaneous, unstructured interviews predict only 14% of an employee’s performance.

Pre-interview applicant tracking and assessments

Pre-screening skill candidate tracking platforms streamline the hiring process by directing the hiring manager towards those candidates who are more likely to succeed on the job. Until recently, only big companies could afford this kind of tracking software. Now, for under $20 a month per applicant, mid to small size companies can use affordable web-based tracking platforms like Taleo, NuView Systems, and Accolo. These options include ‘Knock-out’ questions that result in automated email notification of candidates who don’t make the cut.

There are easily over 1,000 online applicant assessments measuring everything from programming skills to emotional intelligence offered by companies like PreVisor and Kenexa. Prices range from a few dollars to $50 a test, well worth the investment in further shortening your final pre-interview list of candidates. Later, during the interview process, you can administer hands-on tests measuring things like work accuracy and ability to resolve workflow challenges.

The irreplaceable structured interview

Structured interviews (with pre-validated, open-ended questions combining additional questions tailored to a position’s specific responsibilities) are the strong predictors of job performance. When combined with tests for general cognitive ability, emotional intelligence, and conscientiousness, you have a winning combination for finding the best candidate. —One potential downside for tests of general cognitive ability is that they tend to be biased in favor of white males, at least in the U.S.

Overview of interview strategies

Having a carefully developed employee selection process is indispensable to your company’s success. In previous installments, I discussed the advantages of tailored structured interviews with up-front internet-based filters. I also recommended taking additional steps to cull out candidates who have excellent resumes and interview brilliantly, but fail to perform once on the job.

Also, be aware–that the best applicants will score high on basic cognition/intelligence, emotional intelligence (especially conscientiousness) and work task-related performance tests.

Video interviews

If you have a large batch of promising candidates, but not enough time or resources to interview all of them, consider using an online interview system like the service provided by InterviewStream, a company that records online interview videos for $30 to $60. You give them pre-recorded questions. Candidate responses are then captured via webcam. Your hiring managers can later assess the comparative quality of their answers and social skills at their convenience.

Selecting your interviewers

Having candidates deliver a panel presentation before your group interview is highly recommended, especially for training, public relations, sales and team-based positions. For example, a sales candidate could make a mock sales presentation on how they would pitch one of your products to a prospective client.

  • If you are a large organization, HR may push to handle the entire employee selection process, especially if your department managers previously made poor hiring decisions based on unstructured, highly subjective interviews. –However, the best approach, based on research I’ve seen, is to include HR, if at all, primarily at the beginning, to ensure, e.g., that your applicant pool is diverse and meets basic company requirements.
  • Then, with a carefully tailored structured interview in place, select your department’s interviewers. One popular and effective approach is to have the candidate interview sequentially with managers AND team members. This provides 360-degree feedback on their suitability for both the job and the work environment. Understand that if you’re the head manager, you need to respect the feedback of team members who may have a different opinion of the candidate than you do. After all, they will have to work with whomever you hire on a daily basis.
  • Panel interviews, conducted by diverse groups of managers and other employees, are often used to screen technical candidates for engineering, manufacturing or other technical environments. Be sure to prep your panel with appropriate questions and techniques for follow-up queries. The most technically skilled individual may be deficient at collaborating with others or communicating the value of his or her ideas. Such deficits are likely to emerge in a panel interview.
  • Be candid about your company’s challenges, especially those that relate to projects the successful candidate will be assigned. Ask them to provide solutions. This will give you invaluable insight into what the interviewee has to offer.
  • Finally, include a trusted ‘outsider’ to the process, one with knowledge of your area with the added advantage of speaking to the needs and expectations of professionals in other departments whose work coordinates with yours.


Assessing the feedback of candidate reference

Most candidates are extremely careful in selecting references who will say good things about them.  Consequently, the person tasked with checking an applicant’s references must ask tough questions to get beyond superficial impressions. Tone of voice is a major giveaway, as well as flat or sketchy responses to follow-up questions that dive deeper into a candidate’s record of performance.

Two final things–(1) Establish at least a one-month trial period for the new hire, while (2) providing them with all the onboarding support they need to be successful. I’ll give an overview of onboarding best practices in a future Insights article.